Somewhere in the middle, the film loses the plot on being the witty commentary about communication, pretending and public image in the social media age, but it’s still an entertaining romp from start to finish.
There’s a game I like to play when I’m scrolling through my Instagram feed called “How Did They Afford This Lifestyle?” The rules are pretty self-explanatory. She had a destination wedding? How did she afford that lifestyle? He’s taking a solo vacation to Greece? How did he afford that lifestyle? As a struggling millennial in the age of Instagram sponsorships, one can never be too sure. But for Ingrid Thorburn (Aubrey Plaza) the answer is a small windfall from her late mother’s estate and a rabid fixation on being just like the girls she admires online.
After a series of setbacks all of her own making, Ingrid moves out west to Venice Beach to be near her newest social media obsession Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen). When her planned meet-cute falls flat, Ingrid steals Taylor’s dog in order to use its return as a pretext to insinuate herself into her life. What starts as a slightly unsettling, sometimes funny caper about Ingrid’s desperate need for public validation deepens into a full blown stalker narrative in which Ingrid covets Taylor’s life and does everything in her power to be part of it.
In the opening scenes, Ingrid is shown attacking a bride on her wedding day in retaliation for not getting an invitation to the party, only for it to be revealed that she does not know this woman. Ingrid found her on Instagram. Her subsequent time in a mental health institution sets up her actions through the rest of the film to be as a result of some unspecified mental illness. But over time it becomes clear that while Ingrid is definitely dealing with mental health issues, she’s not “crazy” in the colloquial sense. The choices she makes and the things she does to bring herself ever closer to Taylor show a level of calculation and planning not possible for people outside their right mind.
Instead, what we get is a story about a girl who craves that little burst of dopamine when she is acknowledged in public, and will do anything to get it. She uses Taylor’s Instagram profile as a blueprint for her own life, buying the same clothing, eating at the same restaurants and getting the same haircut. Ingrid insinuates herself into every part of Taylor’s life, only to be disappointed when she discovers that her public facing presence is as carefully crafted as her own; everyone is performing for the ‘gram. But when Taylor discovers her ruse and expels her from her life, Ingrid includes a framed photo of their shared Instagram photo in her elaborate suicide tableau. She takes some pills while streaming on Instagram Live and coins her own hashtag. She was seen, and she will die forcing others to see her.
Aubrey Plaza gives a truly entertaining performance as the clearly deranged Ingrid. The role plays directly into her strengths as the droll, affectless sidekick. Tilted on its side, it slips perfectly into mania. Elizabeth Olsen also sells herself well as that certain kind of girl who is always happy, cheerful and hates “negativity” because it cramps her style. The facade is evident to everyone, but when your life is your income you’re literally invested in the charade. Billy Magnussen is pitch perfect as Taylor’s idle and drug addicted brother Nicky, at once a complete waste of time and too smart for his own good. But it’s O’Shea Jackson Jr. who really comes away with the film as the charming and adorable Dan Pinto, Ingrid’s landlord and eventual boyfriend. His slightly nerdy but still laid back Cali vibe is an enjoyable mixture of comedy and sincerity. His Batman obsession explained by his own status as a young orphan.
Somewhere in the middle, the film loses the plot on being the witty commentary about communication, pretending and public image in the social media age, but it’s still an entertaining romp from start to finish. It manages not to jump the shark by keeping Ingrid’s antics on the right side of the line between truly deranged and terrifyingly criminal. It’s not a movie that really knows what it’s trying to say, but it’s fun watching it try to figure that out.